Several years ago, I read an article which changed the way I thought about love and facilitation. In “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This,” the author describes trying an experiment, based on a 1970 study, which demonstrated that intimacy can be accelerated using a relatively simple method of having a pair of strangers ask each other a set of predetermined, progressively probing personal questions. The author goes to a bar with a colleague whom she doesn’t know well, and they decide to try the experiment as a kind of joke. They spend the next few hours asking each other the 36 questions outlined in the original study, and by the end of the evening—as you guessed—they fall in love.
The questions are lighthearted at first— e.g., “Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you have as a dinner guest?”—and become more probing and personal as they progress. The point of the original study was that there is a consistent pattern to intimacy which involves “sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.” It requires the participants to gradually become vulnerable with each other. The structured context of the pre-determined questions also help to force the pattern of intimacy.
I had thought of intimacy as something that happens among people spontaneously, and between people who already share something intrinsic in common. But this study suggests otherwise; intimacy can be engineered, and moreover, it can be engineered to happen in a relatively short period of time.
I wondered about the feasibility, and benefits vs. risks, of applying this method with groups to promote deeper connections in the workplace, as studies have shown the importance of relationships to people’s happiness and fulfillment at work. If intimacy between two people can be engineered, can intimacy among a group be similarly engineered? Preparing a space where people feel comfortable to be open and vulnerable, as well as providing the conditions for people to form personal connections, is part of our job as facilitators. How could we be more intentional about engineering deep connections within the group we are working with? What do we need to be mindful of when integrating this type of method into our practice?